Unlocking the Power of Value-Based Engineering: How IEEE 7000TM-2021 Can Lead to Ethical AI

© Raevsky Lab from Adobe Stock

Third-Wave AI, too, raises questions about its legal and ethical compliance. Democratic supranational organizations and national governments are primarily more concerned about such compliance than AI system manufacturers are. The reason: When governmental organizations use AI – as part of their digitization measures or in a military context, for example –, it is particularly them having to ensure the values they encoded in their democratic constitutions.

Deficient understanding of what values are

Lists of software quality attributes, such as those published around the world by commissions and ethics councils, are of little help to foster technology for the good, since the look at values in an inadequate way. Such lists are worded imprecisely, and they commingle what values are with system features. Lists are of no help to technologists, who are wrongly assumed being able to program or train values into AI systems. This, by the way, is not the fault of the programmers; it is due to the very nature of values. Values are invisible, ideal, non-physical. They need humans who must perceive them. Objects – yet the most powerful AI remains nothing but a thing – are at most carriers of certain properties which can express invisible values. An AI system is a value bearer, and its properties are value dispositions. In tandem, value bearer and value dispositions enable users to recognize certain values realized with it.

IEEE 7000TM-2021 fuses philosophy and engineering

The standard ISO/IEC/IEEE 24748-7000:2022 Systems and software engineering — Life cycle management — Part 7000: Standard model process for addressing ethical concerns during system design introduces a helpful ontology of values. Published in September 2021, the IEEE 7000TM is one of a series of standards which provide a framework for both process and outcomes of ethically-driven system engineering – specifically Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (AS/IS). The standard was developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of mankind.

Introducing the Value Lead role

IEEE 7000TM-2021 aims to enable system stakeholders – including policy makers and regulators – to explore the ethical and social impact of systems as early as of the design stage. To aim at this, the standard requires compliance with both processes and outcomes to ensure that systems are aligned with values and legal and ethical principles. To facilitate the dialogue of technology and philosophy, the standard introduces a new profession: the Value Lead. Comparable to a Product Manager role, a Value Lead is trained in requirements engineering as well as in ethics and value theories. IEEE 7000TM-2021, however, is designed in such a way that it also allows value elicitation for business models or military strategies. Flexible and more general, it may be adapted to diverse application areas and contexts, and it encourages collaboration between stakeholders to ensure systems are designed and deployed in a way that is socially responsible and beneficial to society.

Value Lead accreditation underway

Prof. Ali Hessami, Chair of the IEEE P7000, works on the evaluation and certification of Value Leads. “Ethical assurance requires a global ecosystem,” says Prof. Hessami, emphasizing that the IEEE is keen to properly accredit Value Leads. In fact, accreditation remains essential, as the rollout of a new standard always means: new business, new sales, at worst with a Wild West attitude. Now that ISO 9000 certifications have been widely rolled out, a standard for value-based engineering comes just in time to thrive the business of advisors and global consulting firms. Hence, clients should pay attention to their Value Leads’ education, as IEEE 7000TM-2021 relies on knowledge of philosophy and ethics, i.e. the Humanities. Literary scholars, musicians, philosophers, sociologists or lawyers are suitable Value Leads; they had already undergone a proper education. However, according to Prof. Hessami, education and knowledge alone should not be enough to qualify for a Value Lead. Value Leads should also prove that they are suited by character, which should be validated at regular yearly intervals, since an ethical attitude and moral behavior cannot be proven by certificates. Both are a constant practice, lifelong.

Buy the standard

ISO/IEC/IEEE 24748-7000:2022

Author: Yvonne Hofstetter

Yvonne Hofstetter offers training for value-based engineering with IEEE 7000TM-2021 from the winter 2023/24. Contact